MATOSINHOS, PORTUGAL - M-Sport Ford World Rally Team’s EcoBoost-powered Ford Fiesta WRC had the pace to challenge for the top results at this weekend’s Rally de Portugal, but the Cumbrian squad went unrewarded – Teemu Suninen and Elfyn Evans having to settle for fourth and fifth place.
Suninen delivered an impressive performance through the opening stages – a number of top times including a stage win through the second pass of Góis (SS5). And being just 13 seconds shy of the lead on Friday afternoon, the young Finn had every chance of mounting a challenge.
But his charge was halted on the very next speed test (SS6) when a broken brake pipe put paid to his hopes. Losing more than a minute he fell outside the top-five, but recovered to claim a decent haul of points at the end of the weekend.
Evans was also on top form and challenging for the podium before a loose connector caused him to fall from the fight on Friday (SS5). Stopping mid-stage to locate and rectify the issue, the Welshman’s mechanical skills meant he was able to continue but he lost more than four minutes in the process.
Forced to open the road throughout the remainder of the event, Evans had no chance of making an impact on the timesheets – but kept out of trouble to ensure both Fiestas finished inside the overall top-five.
Elsewhere, Gus Greensmith delivered a strong debut behind the wheel of the top-specification Fiesta. Having the better of Sébastien Loeb, Sébastien Ogier and Thierry Neuville on the opening speed test, the young Brit was quick to make his intensions known and continued to post a string of competitive times throughout the weekend.
He may not have made it to the final stop control – hitting the bank over the famous Fafe jump – but he’s gained a wealth of knowledge and experience for the future and the whole team remain extremely impressed with his performance.
Team Principal, Richard Millener, said:
“At the end of the day it’s a good result from what’s been a disappointing weekend. We definitely had the pace to be on the podium. Elfyn and Teemu were driving really well and were both in the fight for the top positions. But after both cars hit trouble, there wasn’t really much we could do.
“Everyone knows how difficult it is opening the road in these loose conditions, and it was just unfortunate that that task belonged to us this weekend. Having said that, both drivers kept their heads down and made it through to claim a decent haul of points.
“We also need to comment on what was a very impressive performance from Gus on his debut with a world rally car. I think he surprised a lot of people with his speed this weekend, as well as the way he approached the whole event.
“It may not have ended the way he wanted it to, but he’s had a massive smile on his face pretty much all weekend and certainly turned a few heads with his performance! As for whether we’ll see him in a world rally car again this year, we’ll just have to wait and see.”
Teemu Suninen (4th) said:
“I can be quite happy with this result. It’s a shame that we had a problem on Friday afternoon because that meant we didn’t have a good road position for the rest of the weekend. But our pace was really good on Friday morning, and we took some points in the Power Stage today which was also really good.”
Elfyn Evans (5th) said:
“We made a pretty good start to the weekend. It wasn’t perfect, but the pace was there. Obviously it was a shame to lose as much time as we did with the issue on Friday, but these things happen. There wasn’t much more we could do after that, and in all fairness fifth place is a lot more than we could have hoped for on Friday evening.”
Gus Greensmith (DNF) said:
“It’s been a really good weekend for us. For some reason everything just seemed to click quite nicely and, to be honest, the speed came pretty quickly. We were battling with Elfyn and Teemu throughout most of the weekend – and that wasn’t something I was expecting from my first time in a world rally car!
“It was a different challenge opening the road today, but generally a really good experience. It was just a shame that we had the issue over the jump. To have our rally come to an end just 200 metres from the finish was a bit gutting, but overall it’s been a more than positive weekend.”
1. Ott Tänak / Martin Järveoja (Toyota Yaris WRC) 3:20:22.8
2. Thierry Neuville / Nicolas Gilsoul (Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC) +15.9
3. Sébastien Ogier / Julien Ingrassia (Citroen C3 WRC) +57.1
4. Teemu Suninen / Marko Salminen (Ford Fiesta WRC) +2:41.5
5. Elfyn Evans / Scott Martin (Ford Fiesta WRC) +7:08.3